An Investigation into the Potential Creative Applications of Refractory Concrete

Bremner, Alasdair (2008) An Investigation into the Potential Creative Applications of Refractory Concrete. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Refractory concretes (RC) are industrial materials used most commonly in high temperature applications, primarily in the steel and glass industries. In most cases they are a mix of refractory aggregate’s chosen for specific hot engineering applications combined with a cement binder. RCs are known to ceramicists largely only for their insulating properties for which they are used in the manufacture of kilns as hot face lining. However, currently very little information is available regarding the structural and aesthetic possibilities that RC can offer to the artist and designer. It is the researcher’s view that refractory concrete displays novel handling properties that include: increased green and fired toughness and strength, thermal shock resistance, ceramic glaze compatibility, thixotropic effects and rapid setting. These properties offer the opportunity to achieve the creation of objects that do not conform to some of the traditional limitations of conventional clay. This research asks whether new products and visual qualities might be achieved by the adoption of these materials in a sphere different from their intended industrial application.

The thesis demonstrates these properties through a series of practice based projects each designed to capatilise on the unique and novel capabilities of RC. The objective was to develop new and innovative products some of which have architectural or urban design applications. In response to the applications developed through the practice elements of the research, two quantiative studies were conducted. New data on RCs resistance to freeze-thaw and slip resistance was generated both confirming that RC is fit for purpose in the proposed applications.

Throughout the research the RC industry has been an integral source of both materials and expertise. This collaborative relationship is seen as generating knowledge transfer opportunities between industry and academic research.

The research acknowledges the limitations of a single researchers approach and tackles this deficiency by engaging other professional artists and designers in the form of four case studies. The results of the case studies are evaluated using structured interviews.

The practice based elements of the research are combined with quantitive research conducted to demonstrate the viability of RC as both a material with creative potential in the ceramic studio, and in the architectural and design sphere.

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